Monthly Archives: December 2011
“How to be a Victoria’s Secret Angel” Jezebel’s banner teased. “Not that you can be one. You can’t,” ran the verdict following the hopeful headline.
“What people don’t realize is that they’re rarer by far than superstar athletes,” proclaimed Ed Razek, Limited’s chief marketing officer (they also own VS). “The numbers of people who can do this are probably under 100 in the world.”
After all, angels must be skinny and buxom, but also fit enough looking to believably hold up heavy wings. Hard to do all three at the same time (or even two).
Sometime-angel, Angela Lindvall told the New York Times she jumped rope and ate nothing but spinach, chard and kale to lose 20 pounds, post-pregnancy, to “make weight.” Others hire personal trainers, take many-mile runs, do squats and lunges, and generally “kill ourselves,” as one put it.
This Thanksgiving angel Adriana Lim ate no solid foods — only powdered egg-enriched protein shakes. She then added twice-a-day workouts. Finally, no food at all 12 hours before the show, which helps her lose up to eight pounds.
And the resulting body is what all women are supposed to look like? What sort of completely insane society do we live in?
The models “kill themselves” for a few months to acquire angel status. Yet the message is that all women can look like them by simply dawning VC bras and panties.
Much of advertising works by making people feel inadequate – which comes easily when an unachievable ideal is placed before us. But Victoria’s Secret offers a product to help! Really?
The message must be working. Sales are up.
A little VS can add some fun. But don’t stress if you don’t look like an angel. Most of the time, the angels don’t either.
Researchers at Indiana University have released the most comprehensive sex survey since 1994. They made some surprising discoveries. Among them: men are more likely to enjoy sex and reach orgasm if they are in a relationship than if they are not. But women have more difficulty with arousal and bodily response when they are in a relationship.
This goes completely against stereotype. It also goes against what women and men report about their preferences.
What’s going on?
Today let’s explore women. We’ll look at men in an upcoming post.
When I’ve asked who enjoys sex more in our culture, males or females, I repeatedly get the same response from women. It begins with “Women enjoy sex as much as men, but…”
- Some of us prefer to be with someone we love and who loves us back rather than some crazy one night romp with a random person.
- Women place more emphasis on the emotional aspects of sex.
- Women like sex more when it has depth and meaning. It is much more intense and romancing to women when they are in a relationship.
Researchers at the University of Texas, Austin concluded that for women, sexuality is more linked to love, emotional bonding and connection.
So IU’s data seems puzzling.
The researchers asked women and men about the last time they had sex: Were you with a relationship partner or not? What activities did you engage in? Did you have an orgasm? How much did you enjoy the sexual experience?
Finding: Women were less likely to climax when they were in relationships.
What’s up? Here are some possibilities.
Women who really love sexuality may be more likely to have sex with different partners, affecting the average.
What about more typical women? Women need to feel sexy and desired to get aroused. They want to feel chosen. With a new partner, a woman will feel she’s been chosen because she’s so attractive. But in committed relationships she may feel like her partner simply has no choice but sex with her. Not a big turn-on.
Men also seem to experience a slight drop in interest over time with long-term partners, and women may sense that, leading to an even bigger drop in their own libido.
Why a bigger drop for women? Marta Meana, psychology professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, says women have a lower sex drive (influenced by a culture that represses women’s sexuality) and need a bigger jolt to turn on libido. “If I don’t love cake as much as you,” she told a New York Times reporter, “my cake better be kick-butt to get me excited to eat it.” Something for men to think about.
At the same time relationship is helpful because women (and men) need to feel relaxed in order to climax. The Indiana University data isn’t clear on whether the more-aroused women were having sex with men whom they saw as potential committed partners – the beginning of relationship. In that case they might have felt an excitement at feeling chosen, but also safe enough to create the necessary comfort to climax.
But sex isn’t just about orgasm. The emotional component of feeling loved and connected creates a rich, multidimensional experience which may be what so many refer to when they say they want more than a quick roll in the hay.
Meanwhile, some advice for men: let your lady know she’s desired and chosen.
Researchers looking at the most commonly used words to describe women and men on college campuses made some interesting findings.
Labels for college men: guy, dude, boy (as in “one of my boys”), stud/homey
Labels for college women: babe, chick, slut, bitch
See a difference?
The words describing men are fairly neutral. The most negative term may be “boy,” implying immaturity, not manhood. But the phrase “one of my boys” is endearing and inclusive. “Homey” prompts thoughts of ghetto life – low class. But it also suggests streetwise toughness – a positive for men.
Stud is very positive, and was likely used a bit more ten years ago when this study was done. Player and pimp might be more common now, but they all create similar imagery: a sexually active man who is potent and adept at attracting women, getting women to submit sexually — and in so doing conquering them. Powerful imagery.
And words for women? They are all sexualized. “Babe” and “chick” indicate sexual attractiveness, alerting us to how important beauty is for women.
“Babe” infantilizes, but also suggests endearment. The term can also describe men whom women are close to. “Chick” may have come from the word chic, meaning fashionable. But thoughts of a baby bird do suggest immaturity, with the added hint of animal status.
“Slut” is the counterpart to stud, but without the celebratory salute – quite the opposite, in fact. “Bitch” can have a similar meaning as in, “A bitch sleeps with everyone but me.” Of course, “extremely unpleasant personality” can be an alternate meaning.
When men seem so interested in getting sex it seems odd to use words that shame women’s sexuality and contribute to sexual dysfunction. Perhaps it all makes conquest, and the ensuing rise in self-regard, that much sweeter.
On the whole, terms describing women are much more negative than those labeling men.
Language affects our minds, it guides how we see the world and ourselves. For more on this, see my post on how language shapes us.
When words describe women as sexual, secondary, and degraded, both women and men come to see them that way, at least unconsciously. We see the effects when less evolved men easily throw these sticks and stones at women, or when too many women swallow the terms, and without much of a whimper.
A Bangladeshi woman who skillfully made beautiful stools lived her life in dire poverty, making only two cents a day. Why? Because she had no money to buy bamboo and was forced to borrow from a money-lender who demanded she sell her finished stools back to him at a price that was so low that two cents profit was all she could manage.
This is what she explained to Muhammad Yunus, a U.S.-trained economist who wandered around the local village asking people what lay behind their plight. He wondered why the economic theories he had studied at Vanderbilt weren’t working in Bangladesh.
When he asked the skilled stool maker if she could earn more if she were freed from the moneylender, she said, “Yes I can.” Finding other villagers in the same dilemma, Professor Yunus gathered 42 people who needed a mere 68 cents each to pay-off their moneylenders, buy materials, and begin selling their wares to the highest bidder.
With this small loan profits soared from two cents to $1.25 a day, which in Bangladesh was enough to pull the villagers out of dire poverty. And so began what we now call microfinance and Grameen or “Village” bank.
Grameen does business the reverse of custom. Most banks lend to the rich but Grameen lends to the poor, most banks lend to men but Grameen lends to women, most banks lend to the literate but Grameen lends to the non-literate, most banks make big loans but Grameen makes small ones, and while most banks require collateral, Grameen does not.
Today Grameen Bank has lifted millions of people out of poverty, serving more than 100 million of the world’s poorest families. And Muhammad Yunus has won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work.
What do hard core porn and reality show, Top Model, have in common? Hard core pornography often gets the viewer off on women’s suffering. So does Top Model.
In the first episode the models underwent Brazilian bikini waxes on camera. As Jennifer Pozner described it, “Cameras flitted back and forth from their pained facial expressions to their nearly nude legs spread wide in the air, while the audio lingered at length on the models’ blood-curdling screams as hot wax was spread over their genitals and their pubic hair was ripped off.”
The only thing missing was the close-up.
Pozner went on to describe how contestants have been asked to drop from platforms onto surfaces with little cushioning, or to sit on ice sculptures in freezing temperatures. One model was asked to pose in a pool of icy water – shaking, shivering, and begging for a break – until her body began to shut down from hypothermia and she was rushed to a hospital.
If pain and suffering isn’t imminent, models are asked to act as though it is, coached to look “scared! Something’s chasing you! Something’s coming to get you!” Scared, “but pretty,” that is.
Host, Tyra Banks, has also asked models to act like they are in pain: chest pain, fingers slammed in a door, strangulation… A signature pose was suggested for one model, “Look like you’re getting punched.”
Beautiful, sexy women in fear and pain. All reminiscent of hard-core pornography: In the popular video, “Two in the Seat #3,” an actress is asked by an off-camera interviewer what will happen. She replies, “I’m here to get pounded.” In other pornos women are hit or raped. Too-large objects are inserted as actresses scream out. Sometimes pain is registered in penetration. Even when suffering isn’t purposely placed in the script, directors don’t bother to edited it out, suggesting viewers’ taste. More and more, the new edge in porn involves cruelty.
I worry about a society that develops a taste for women’s torment. Or for anyone’s distress. As pain becomes eroticized, some develop a desire for their own suffering. My students sometimes talk of getting turned on by a little D/s in the bedroom. This is no surprise. We’re so bombarded with eroticized images of dominance that I suspect few in this culture fail to get turned on by it.
Still, depending on how far it goes, violent sex play can lead to broken skin, bruising and infections, even as the point of pain is to warn us away from doing what it is harmful to the body.
We worry about women being battered. Should we worry when women come to crave their own abuse?
And, surrounded by images of eroticized dominance and violence, and sexily submitting to such acts, does male domination, itself, become sexy?
A Saudi woman is beheaded for “witchcraft.” Girls are disappearing in India.
Women are “disappeared” in so many ways.
Non-witches in Saudi Arabia may still be “honor killed” for being with boys, for being raped, or for adultery.
So women are more expendable than men.
As they were during the witch hunts of Europe which lasted from 1450 to 1750, resulting in tens of thousands of killings. Three-quarters of the executed were women.
Steven Katz, author of The Holocaust in Historical Context, says,
The overall evidence makes plain that the growth — the panic — in the witch craze was inseparable from the stigmatization of women.
Continuing, Katz quotes The Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches), published by Catholic Inquisition authorities in 1485-86.
All wickedness is but little to the wickedness of a woman. … What else is woman but a foe to friendship, an unescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil nature, painted with fair colours…
For the sin of being “woman” so many were killed in two German villages that only one woman per town was left alive at one point of the witch hunt.
Echoing ancient Germany, in some Indian communities few women can be found today. ABC news recently reported:
Fifty thousand girl fetuses are aborted every month in India. It is a staggering number. And it has created whole villages where there are hardly any women. We went to one such village in the province of Haryana. Everywhere we looked, we saw boys, young men, old men, but very, very few women. It was unsettling, especially because we knew this was not some freak of nature, but a result of the deliberate extermination of girls.
As we all know, China faces a deficit of the female sex, too.
In both China and India girls are a drain on family finances. Indian brides require huge dowries which can run their families huge debts. And the eldest son is “Social Security” in China. No son? No one to care for you in old age.
Currently, right-wingers are staging a war on women in the U.S., pushing to block the cancer screenings and tests for HIV that Planned Parenthood provides. They seek to prevent access to birth control and abortion that could save women’s lives. And they want to cut nutrition programs for women and children. Women just aren’t that important.
Patriarchy too often rids the world of women and finds each man smothering the feminine within, whether a stance, a way of walking, a way of talking, an emotion… If he does not he will be accused of being a woman, a girl, girly, girly man, sissy… or he may be called woman-like: fag or gay. Pretty awful, huh?
And so the feminine is “disappeared” in male-dominated societies and within men, themselves, while sexist women and men bolster the cause even as egalitarian men and women fight the good fight.
Where misogyny wins no one is better off.
Women who fight a rapist are more likely to get injured than those who don’t, but they are less likely to be raped. And since physical injuries heal more easily than emotional wounds, fighting back is recommended by experts.
Rapists often depend upon a woman freezing with fear, making the crime easier to commit. But when women fight it can become so unpleasant that the rapist gives up, hoping for an easier target. (And if you yell for help, shout “fire,” not “rape.” People run to fires and away from sexual assault.)
That said, women who don’t fight should not be ashamed of their reaction. Every woman must use her best judgment at any moment, acting as she best sees fit in any circumstance.
As far as self-defense techniques go, it’s probably best to take a class, but here are a few tips that Cordelia Clancy of Concrete Jungle Self Defense offers when she visits our campus during Women’s History Month:
- Appear confident
- Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t wear things like headphones that distract your attention
- Trust your instincts. Your primal brain often senses things that the rational brain does not
- Leave a situation if you sense danger, and don’t worry about offending anyone
- Never get in a car if an assailant tells you to. Your chances of surviving are much better if you run away. And people who are running don’t make good targets
- Car keys between the fingers can make you look scared – and look like a promising victim
- Weapons can be used against you, and it can take time to get into a purse to get them, so use your body, and things that are easily in reach as weapons (a pen, a book)
- Make a hard part of your body go into a soft part of his
- Jab fingers into eyes – shoot your fingers quickly and hard, straight through, aiming for the back of his scull
- Jab a pen or notebook into his throat (to collapse a trachea)
- Knees into groin
- You get the idea
- And then run (you may kick him while he’s down first)
Students sometimes ask if they could do something less violent and gruesome, uncomfortable with the idea of poking someone’s eyes out. Cordelia says that if you just annoy him but don’t disable him, you’ll only piss him off. And that won’t be good for you.
To get into the right frame of mind to fight, you need to create a thought like, “F-YOU!! YOU MESSED WITH THE WRONG GIRL!!!” to take you out of your everyday mindset and get into the frame of mind that you’ll need to defend yourself.
Don’t make your attacker’s life more important than your own.
Get more tips from Cordelia at Concrete Jungle Self Defense and look into taking a self-defense course.
Let’s say I see a woman and she looks really pretty and really clean and sexy and she’s giving off very feminine, sexy vibes. I think, wow I would love to make love to her, but I know she’s not interested. It’s a tease. A lot of times a woman knows that she’s looking really good and she’ll use that and flaunt it and it makes me feel like she’s laughing at me and I feel degraded…
If I were actually desperate enough to rape somebody it would be from wanting that person, but also it would be a very spiteful thing, just being able to say ‘I have power over you and I can do anything I want with you’ because really I feel that they have power over me just by their presence. Just the fact that they can come up to me and just melt me makes me feel like a dummy, makes me want revenge.
When talking to men about women, Michael Kimmel, one of the nation’s leading researchers on men and masculinity, found that many men’s reactions became surprisingly aggressive. He cites a Men’s Health survey which found that one third of men believed women should be reported for sexual-harassment for their provocative dress. Or, a college chaplain claimed, “The way young women dress in the spring constitutes a sexual assault upon every male within eyesight of them.”
Kimmel says the anger comes from men feeling entitled to women’s bodies. And he says that’s not so surprising given all the “come-on” scantily clad images that surround them, whether in mainstream media or porn. According to Kimmel:
Guys believe that they are entitled to women’s bodies, entitled to sex. Unfortunately for them, a significant number of women don’t see it that way. And when entitlement is thwarted guys seek revenge.
Curiously, while psychologists, feminists and the legal system see male aggression as the initiation of violence, guys describe it not as initiation but as retaliation. What are they retaliating against? The power that women have over them.
All this came as a shock to me. I had known that many men love seeing sexy women on the street, in a bar, at work… I hadn’t known that others found the same visions torturous, as they craved what they couldn’t have. And resented the “rejection.” Maybe some men feel both ways, pleasure and resentment all at once.
The opposing perspectives are striking. Men who enjoy sexy women often feel powerful, believing the women choose to dress alluringly for their pleasure, to please men. Some even think women dress provocatively to feel sexual pleasure in feeling desired. Men who feel this way are turned on, and not angry.
Whether experienced as pleasure or pain, an awful lot of men take women’s appearance personally, thinking it’s about them.
Yet most women dress for their own self-esteem, leading to a double-bind when it comes to dressing sexy: damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Women feel tremendous pressure to be beautiful because society rewards them. Their self-worth often depends on it. But then women can end up objectified — being seen as all about sex and little else, or (now we know) leaving some men angry at them.
What’s a girl to do? What’s a guy to do?
Here are some thoughts. Maybe you have some ideas, too.
Some men learn that they should have power over women so that when it’s the other way around, they may feel angry and resentful. See women as your equals (neither less-than nor better-than) and respect them.
Some men come to feel entitled to women’s bodies. Know that we are all entitled to our own bodies, first and foremost.
To those who think that women flaunt their beauty as they laugh and degrade you, know that that’s not what’s happening. Women are simply trying to do what society tells them to do: look beautiful.
Many women and men unfortunately learn to see women in one-dimensional ways that are based on narrow notions of “beauty.” How about expanded vision? Why not enjoy beauty in its many forms and see women as people rather than sexy objects. And instead of being angry at women who aren’t interested in you, see the beauty of those who are.
By Dania Jafar
Islam represses women’s sexuality, right? Think again.
We all see Muslim women draped in head-to-toe burqas, or read about 10-year-olds being married off to 50-year-old men, or cringe at women being stoned for adultery or knifed to death by family members in “honor killings” for such crimes as fornication or being with a man without a chaperone – or for being raped. (The stain of sexual impurity must be removed from the family, it is thought.) In some parts of North Africa and the Middle East women’s genitals are ritually cut or removed in the name of Islam.
In such a world, whose sexuality wouldn’t be repressed?
But nothing you just read has anything to do with Islam. All of the above are cultural practices that are not approved in the Quran.
Unfortunately, a lack of understanding has created mistaken beliefs about women and sexuality in Islam, says scholar and feminist Pınar İlkkaracan. And the confusion exists among Muslim and non-Muslim, alike. As she explains (paraphrased):
The classical figh texts of early Islam’s legal jurisprudence kept with their patriarchal societies and ignored the gender equality of the Quran. Today, many on the religious right claim that customary practices that subjugate women are Islamic, and use them to control women and their sexuality. This has led to an incorrect portrayal of scripture both in Muslim societies and in the West.
What does the Quran say? Women have the right to consent to marriage. But ten-year-old girls are not old enough to understand and give consent, so they should not be given to older men. Holy Scripture says that adulterers (male and female) should be lashed, not stoned. But there must be four witnesses, otherwise a woman’s word must be accepted. And genital cutting was practiced long before Islam arose. There’s nothing about it in the Quran.
Even veiling is largely misunderstood. The scripture declares, “Say to the believing women that they guard their private parts, and reveal not their outward adornment and let them cast their veils over their bosoms (24:30-31).”
This scripture simply advises modesty. But what is considered modest varies from place to place. That is cultural. There is nothing in the Quran about full body covering. Or even about veiling your hair.
And covering can be viewed as a good thing with women seen as precious gems, shielded from the unpleasant stares of strangers. Covering can also be experienced as a positive affirmation of devotion to God.
Additionally, Islam stresses the equal status of a man and woman and by no means deems one less than the other. The attitude of the Quran and Muslim scholars bear witness to “the fact that woman is, at least, as vital to life as man himself, and that she is not inferior to him nor is she one of the lower species,” according to Hammuda Abdul-Ati, PH.D. This is also demonstrated in the first word of the Quran, “Iqra,” which commands all humans to search for, and equip themselves with knowledge. God doesn’t differentiate between man and woman and tells us that both are of equal importance.
In contradiction to popular belief, Islam takes a positive approach to women’s sexuality. It affirms their sexual desire and right to its fulfillment in a responsible way, after marriage.
Consider these quotes from the great mufti ‘Sheikh Ahmad Kutty’:
Now coming to mutual obligations of spouses, it is lucidly and beautifully expressed in the following verses: And cohabit with them on terms of utmost decency and fairness (An-Nisa’ 4: 19); And they (women) have rights similar to those of men in fairness (Al-Baqarah 2: 228).
According to the Qur’an, the purpose of marriage is to attain sukun (tranquility and peace; see for instance verses 30:21; 7:189), which can never be achieved through impulsive sexual fulfillment unless it is accompanied by mutual love, affection, caring, and sharing, which are all part and parcel of a fulfilling and productive marriage relationship.
In Islam, man and woman in general, as well as husband and wife in particular, are equal partners; just as a husband has needs to which a wife is expected to be responsive, a wife also has needs to which a husband should be responsive. To be successful, marriage must be based on mutual reciprocity and consensual relationship.
Yes, Islam sees women’s sexuality as beautiful, natural, and fulfilling.